Friday, October 23, 2009

Making room for tolerance . . .

Move over Dan Brown, Sarah Palin's soon-to-be published book, Going Rogue: An American Life, has vaulted over The Lost Symbol on the Amazon bestsellers list. To be fair, it's also a lot cheaper, for it's among the pre-release books Amazon is selling for $9.00. (See Wednesday's post, if you haven't heard of this). Going Rogue stands at #2, behind only Stephen King's Under the Dome, also offered at a pre-release 9 bucks.

Ms. Palin is a famously uninhibited opinion-ista. There's debate about whether or not she knows what she's talking about, but what the pre-publication popularity of her books says to me is that an astonishing number of people in this country do like listening to her talk. I'm unclear about whether this means an astonishing number of people also like what she has to say or whether they hate it. (I have very liberal friends who listen to Rush Limbaugh, evidently for the pleasure of becoming outraged). What I am clear about is that having lots of opinions about lots of things sells books. We really do seem to like argument in this country.

Personally, I find people who argue pretty boring. I'm drawn to folks who voice considered opinions formed  from information (not just from books, either, but from reflective living), thoughtfulness, and tolerance.

Ah tolerance! The willingness to, as Atticus Finch phrased it, walk around in another person's shoes. To try on another's point of view.

Years ago I did a story for NPR on rock-climbing, which involved going to Seneca Rocks in West Virginia and climbing those rocks myself. The story ended up being a story of cultural accommodation, of life-long holler residents suffering invasion by spandex clad city-folks. Most of the locals seemed to like the money the spandex-ers spent locally, but to also think they were crazy.

I met an old farmer, though, who'd been scratching a living for eighty-some years on a few acres at the base of the rocks. He'd never been anywhere or done anything of note. His plan was just to go on living until he died. He viewed the rocks with adversarial respect that bordered on possessiveness.

The first afternoon we met, I stood with him on his front porch and watched a man in leopard-skin tights free-climbing a vertical face. I asked him what he thought about such antics.

Everyone, he replied, needs their delight. If that's his delight, then I'll just leave him be.

I certainly believe Ms. Palin is welcome to her say. However, I do hope we don't lose the ability to search out, listen to, and learn from the less strident voices in our cultural conversation.


  1. I like the way your writing builds on a series of plain, simple observations without judgment, and in so doing, offers a perspective -- a fresh one -- rather than a conclusion or an opinion.

    Didn't know about those rocks. What a magnificent area we live in!

  2. A book coming out the same day, "Going ROUGE," is a compilation of critical coverage about Palin with what looks like an intentionally similar cover. The portrait may actually be Palin, though, not Tina Fey. --CE